|In Quiet Rejoicing||01:44|
Altman’s Theme and Variations on “Ma’oz tzur“ is an artistic concert work for solo organ, which, as anyone who knows the instrument can readily hear, could only have been composed by a superbly skilled and seasoned organist. The theme is the (originally) German-Jewish contrafact version, whose hybrid melody (possibly fused from three separate sources) was, by most educated estimates, not applied to the assumed 13th-century poem Ma’oz tzur until early in the eighteenth century—first for the home candlelighting ritual and later in the synagogue, not only for this text but as a leitmotif for the festival applied to other parts of the liturgy. Eventually it became the Western world’s quintessential melodic association with Hanukka—among both Jews and Christians. Despite its questionable appropriateness to the text and its problematic lineage—and despite the existence of numerous other tune versions—it represents a probably permanent triumph of nostalgia for perceived authenticity of tradition. (For further discussion of this melodic version, see the notes in this volume to Samuel Adler’s The Flames of Freedom.)
With taste and judicious control, Altman employs a number of standard techniques and procedures for variation. In the second variation he imposes a triple meter on the original duple meter. And in the fifth variation, “Dance,” he invokes as contrapuntal material an unrelated popular Hanukka song, Mi y’mallel (Who Can Recount?), at times over a bass ostinato drawn from the Ma’oz tzur melody. He returns to similar contrapuntal treatment with much sophistication.
Performers: Barbara Harbach, Organ